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Donna Rudolph, vineyard manager at Bedell Cellars, won the Grape Grower of the Year Award. (credit: Bedell Cellars)

About three weeks ago, Donna Rudolph received a phone call.

“I was shocked, very shocked,” the vineyard manager at Bedell Cellars said. On the other end of that call was the New York Wine and Grape Foundation informing her she had just won Grape Grower of the Year. 

“I went up to Rich [Olsen-Harbich, winemaker] and I said, ‘Grape and Wine Foundation just called me and I got this award,’ ” she said. “And he started laughing. He said ‘I forgot that I had nominated you.’ ”

The foundation gives out awards every year through peer nominations as a way to “recognize, encourage and celebrate cooperation among grape growers, wineries, researchers, retailers and others to advance the entire industry.” 

Despite the shock, Rudolph is honored to have won the award. After spending 34 years in the wine business tending to the grapes of two vineyards over her career, she is happy her work is being celebrated.

“I have put in so much time in the industry, so it is nice to be recognized,” she said. “I love the job, and that’s the reason why I’ve stuck with being in the vineyard for so long. I just really enjoy working in the vineyard.”

Olsen-Harbich said Rudolph deserved to be recognized for her pioneering years in the New York State wine world.

“As one of the first women on the East Coast to manage vineyards, she helped blaze a trail for other women to enter a profession that has been historically dominated by men,” Olsen-Harbich said. “It’s the highest compliment to her skills and perseverance.”

The specific award Rudolph received, the Grape Grower of the Year, “recognizes an individual for dedication and contributions to the New York grape industry.” And Rudolph sees it as more than just a person who tends to the vines.

“It is a big deal to be chosen as a woman in New York State, because it’s a fact of life that probably 90 percent of vineyard managers or grape growers are males,” she said. “So, I do feel good to know I was picked.”

“Maybe this will help other women to realize that they can get into this business and build a career in it,” she continued. “Because it is a wonderful career.”